Review: Modern Syrian-Lebanese restaurant Yasma sets up shop in Coal Harbor

Aleppo lamb and chicken kebabs at Yasma restaurant in Vancouver.DARYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Name: Yasma

Place: 550 Denman St., Vancouver

Phone: 604-566-0493


Kitchen: Luxury Syrian and Lebanese

Prices: Appetizers, $10-$20; entrees, $26-$29; tasting menu, $89 per person

Extra information: Open Wednesday to Sunday from 4:45 PM to 9:45 PM; reservation recommended; patio; pick up and pick up possible.

Review: Modern Syrian-Lebanese restaurant Yasma sets up shop in Coal Harbor

As a popular haunted kitchen with delivery service that made its debut during the pandemic, Yasma already had a loyal clientele lost in its mouth-watering food.DARYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Has a former haunted kitchen finally lifted the spell on a cursed Coal Harbor location? From the looks of Yasma – bustling with Middle Eastern flavors, festive with live music and packed almost every night since the opening in March – it seems so.

Over the years, this enchanting restaurant jewelry box has lured countless shipwrecks to its gleaming fold. Perched on the seawall at the bottom of Denman Street, the waterfront views, expansive glass walls, tranquil pond rippling to one side, and passing swarms of summer tourists were too mesmerizing to resist.

As the rainy season descended, they all fell like dominoes: Crime Lab, Bravo Bistro, Sol Sun Belt Cookery, The Change, Verre. Some, like Harbour550, came and went so fast you’d hardly notice they were there.

Review: Modern Syrian-Lebanese restaurant Yasma sets up shop in Coal Harbor

Our tasting menu featured chicken and Aleppo kebabs, cooked here over charcoal.DARYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Undeterred, Yasma owner and general manager Sami Moustattat began to fill the room with handmade railings, brass lanterns, walnut tables and copper plates. He admits he had his doubts before opening when everyone, even his landlord, told him it would be closed within a year.

But unlike the others, Yasma had two crucial advantages. First, as an upscale Syrian and Lebanese restaurant, it offered something new to Vancouver, with the potential to become a sought-after destination less susceptible to the vagaries of weather and visitors.

Second, from its first incarnation as a popular haunted delivery service kitchen that debuted during the pandemic, it has already had a loyal clientele lost in its delectable food.

Yasma’s signature takeaways are all still available in the new restaurant, now complemented by exceptionally warm and attentive service, a plethora of large parties celebrating special occasions and, on weekends, a former player gently strumming in the background.

There’s the voluptuous muhammara, a smoky red pepper spread complexed with pomegranate molasses, fleshy walnuts, onions and mahlab (a powder of wild cherry kernel); hummus that is silky smooth after an arduous three-day process; and an incredibly airy tabbouleh salad plump with parsley that has been well cleaned, rested, destemmed and chopped with a precise cutting technique that prevents the moisture from leaking out.

Review: Modern Syrian-Lebanese restaurant Yasma sets up shop in Coal Harbor

Yalanji (stuffed grape leaves), front right, tabbouleh salad, left and Muhammara (red pepper dip).DARYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

But there’s much more to enjoy, including an excellent selection of beverages, a tasting menu, several new dishes and a wider selection of skewers, all delicately smoked over a charcoal-smoldered grill.

You won’t go wrong with the succulent chicken breast shish tawook, tender in yogurt. But the Aleppo kabab is a highlight. The minced lamb skewers are made from four cuts of halal-certified lamb, broken down in-house from whole animals. The neck, belly, shoulder and leg are coarsely ground and then mixed with fat, pistachios, red peppers and spicy Aleppo pepper, all of which are formed around the skewers into long, flat patties that are gently charred. It is delicately smoked, juicy, tender, hearty and absolutely delicious.

Another intriguing specialty is the kibbeh nayeh, made with raw lamb, similar to tartare. The clean, lean leg meat is finely ground and mixed with bulgur, Aleppo pepper, basil and mint. The pasta is formed into small balls, topped with plumes of more fresh mint and fleshy Chilean walnuts, and served in a pool of spiced oil, juicy pomegranate seeds and grated pistachios.

This kibbeh also comes in grilled and fried versions. The latter is encased in a cracked wheat and lamb mixture that creates a nice contrast between the crispy skin and the crumbly center.

The tasting menu, an extravagant feast of 14 dishes, is an excellent way to explore the menu. Ours included the chicken and Aleppo kebab, kibbeh (raw and fried), lamb chops, pickles, hummus, tabbouleh, various dips, stuffed grape leaves and extremely addictive spiced potatoes that have been double fried and topped with a clear and tangy garlic lemon sauce. .

It’s all vibrant, fresh and beautifully gilded. But the tasting menu portions are so generous that you might need a digestive shot of arak, an anise-flavored drink, halfway through.

An inspired drinks list also includes very good Lebanese and French wines and cocktails with more arrack, cedar, apricot leather made into juice, saffron and yogurt.

Review: Modern Syrian-Lebanese restaurant Yasma sets up shop in Coal Harbor

Yasma’s signature takeaways are all still available in the new restaurant, now complemented by an exceptionally warm and attentive service.DARYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Try to save room for dessert, including soft baklava, which is shipped weekly from Montreal’s famous Pâtisserie Mahrouse. Or the excellent qatayef, a fried pancake filled with walnuts or homemade clotted cream, drizzled with rose water syrup and pistachio powder.

The only dishes I wasn’t too fond of were the sambousek, a fried dumpling filled with cheese (the dough was a bit raw) and the fattoush salad (the cold cucumber and tomatoes had to be brought to room temperature).

But those are minor quibbles for experiences that, with the music, festive ambiance, gracious service, and mouth-watering food, were otherwise magically transported.

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